“It’s a very appropriate video, Mommy. Look, it’s Jewish.”

I circled around to face my MacBook. How in the world did he find that clip? Probably through the endless video options that YouTube so generously provides relating to your initial video. He’s become so savvy, so self-sufficient, it’s scary.

As much as I try to be vigilant, the transitions on the Web are so smooth, and the options are so tempting, that it’s too hard to monitor what the kids pull up. Mine are still too young to be looking for trouble on the Web, and are quite entertained by Jewish music videos and plays about the holidays, but I’m concerned about their growing addiction to YouTube.

So I laid down a new law. I sat next to them and broke it to How in the world did he find that clip?them gently. “You are amazing kids. I’m so thrilled that G‑d trusted me to raise you. You’re smart and good-natured. And my job is to help you grow smarter and more sensitive. Here’s the thing: watching lots of video clips on the Internet doesn’t help you become smarter. If anything, it can stop you from thinking, do you know what I mean? It’s not that anything you watch is bad, it’s just often silly. And the worst part about surfing the Web is that it’s addictive; it pulls you in and starts to control you.”

I think they got it.

“From now on, you are welcome to listen to music, audio stories and even watch occasional DVDs, but no Internet.”

“What about you, Mommy? How are you going to do your work without the Internet?” asked Chana.

“Well,” I gulped, “we’re not shutting down the Internet. I may use it after you guys go to bed.”


Note to self: Don’t let the Internet make you less smart. Don’t watch silly things. (Hey, if I said it to the kids, I can say it to myself.) Use the Web for work, but don’t kick off your shoes and let too much of your time get lost in cyberspace.

Of course, it all starts with serious stuff: research, networking, writing. But then there’s always a little gossip, a little shopping and a little bit of nothing important.

Would life be of a higher quality without the distraction of the Internet?

At its most benign, the Internet provides us with entertainment and distraction. At its most malignant, it’s screen addiction and pornography experimentation. Some conservative-minded people see the World Wide Web as the devil incarnate because it’s a slippery slope of stimulation and temptation, with billions of vendors vying for your click and luring you at every corner and website. Is the wisest response to the Web to stay away? That’s got to be very inconvenient, but it kind of makes sense.

What do you think G‑d would prefer? Does G‑d find the World Wide Web impressive or abhorrent? Let’s keep in mind that He’s the One who masterminded Internet technology. True, it took tremendous human ingenuity to develop the Web, but one can argue that people simply uncovered an amazing feature of G‑d’s universe: Light can carry encoded signals and then transmit that information! This optical networking system is the technology that enables the Internet.

The Midrash says that “everything that G‑d created, He created for His glory.”1 From electricity to sound waves, everything was created with a clear intention, and generally speaking that intention is to benefit G‑d. But let’s be realistic; most people I know are not thinking about G‑d’s glory when they go online.

Here’s the core question: How do we use Internet technology to reveal G‑d’s glory without getting caught in its claws of mental decay?

The Torah addresses a similar question about money.

According to the Midrash, the reason that the Jewish people made the golden calf was because they had a surplus of gold.2 After the Egyptians drowned in the Sea of Reeds, the Jews had collected the gold that washed ashore. When Moses left them for 40 days, they felt abandoned, and they made an idol out of their abundant gold. Later on the prophet Hosea rebuked the Jewish people, saying, “I gave her much silver and gold, but they made it for Baal (idol worship).”3

Does this sound familiar? When our idealism fades away, there’s always something we can fall back upon for joy and stimulation: money, and all that money can buy. The more money we have, the easier it is to become dependent on it for stimulation and security. When we’re not sure that G‑d’s with us, we worship gold. That was the story of the golden calf.4

In Parshat Eikev, Moses talks to the Jews about that terrible mistake they made 39 years prior, making a golden calf. Does this sound familiar?He remembers out loud when he persistently begged G‑d to forgive the Jews for their mistake, and how G‑d finally forgave them.5 And then G‑d told Moses what the Jews should do next—build the Tabernacle, His sanctuary on earth. G‑d asked the people to contribute the raw materials for construction, and the first resource He mentioned was gold!6

There was a lot of gold in the Tabernacle: the menorah was carved from solid gold; the ark was lined and overlaid with gold; the table of the showbread, the frankincense vessels and the spoons were all gold. It seems ironic that in the immediate aftermath of the worship of gold, G‑d would advise the recovering gold addicts to focus on glitz and gold again. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to take a break from all that gold?

The obvious message from G‑d was not to reject gold, even though it had been misused. Their fall with the golden calf didn’t incriminate the gold, only the people who lacked the maturity to use it wisely. As far as gold itself, the Midrash says, “The world is not worthy enough to use gold, so why was it created? For the Tabernacle and the Temple.”7

First, Moses broke the tablets, and the Jews had a rude awakening. They had gone too far. Their worship of gold had brought them to a place of dysfunction and self-destruction. They changed their attitude toward gold, and Moses in turn brought their feelings of remorse to G‑d, as he pleaded for their forgiveness for 40 days. So the gold was making them stronger already. They were consciously rejecting its allure and worship.

G‑d created the glitz and glamour of materialism so that human beings would wrestle with it. Every time a person chooses not to overindulge or overfocus on materialism, she is playing right into G‑d’s master plan. Overcoming temptation makes us stronger, and G‑d wants us to be stronger. Pushing back against our base instincts lifts up G‑d’s glory in a big way.8

Then G‑d says, “You have gold; do something great with it. Make something special and G‑dly with that gold. That’s why I created it.” And that’s the second step in rehabilitation. It’s no longer “What can money do for me?” but “What can I do to maximize this money?”

If you want to know how to use technology for its highest purpose without being harmed by its downside, look carefully at the story of the golden calf. It’s easy to worship our iPhones and laptops because they are so useful and stimulating. But all this technology and time spent online is like having lots of money—we’ve got to be careful not to become dependent on it. Choosing not to overindulge is part of the reason that G‑d created the technology in the first place. It’s good for us to say no to addiction.

On the other hand, the Internet, like gold, was created as a tool to increase the awareness and glory of G‑d in the universe. It’s not “What can the Web do for me?” but “What does it want from me?” More than 3 billion people use the Internet, and you can reach them from the comfort of your own sofa. So, nu? What do you have to say?

In 1991, when international satellite hookup was relatively new for public use, In 1991, international satellite hookup was relatively new for public usethe Rebbe led a Chanukah celebration that united people in New York, Paris, Moscow, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Jerusalem with a live video broadcast from each country. For Jews in Moscow, it was the first time in more than 70 years that a public religious celebration was legal, and with the coordinated efforts of the Rebbe’s new emissary to Moscow, it was attended by hundreds of Jews. The Rebbe, who experienced the stifling repression of religion under the Communist regime firsthand, was visibly emotional when the satellite focused in on the throngs of people standing in front of the menorah that was set up in the Red Square. Technology had brought Jews from seven countries together in celebration of Chanukah.

As for my kids, once I can cut back on the screen addiction, I’ll have to teach them about the power that G‑d invested in the Internet. I’ll teach it to the kid inside of me, too!

(Based on an address of the Rebbe, Sefer Hasichot 5748, p. 593.)